Cross Platform Learning- Opinion

Last semester, my Moodle looked a little barren. Only two of my classes actually had Moodle pages. This would be okay if only 2 of my classes had websites. But all of them did. In fact, most of the classes I took had multiple websites that I was expected to check, and memorize, and be a part of throughout the semester. This is the story of how I kept up with:

  1. courses.umass.edu
  2. people.umass.edu
  3. moodle.umass.edu
  4. owl.oit.umass.edu
  5. piazza.com
  6. Flat World Learn On
  7. SimNet
  8. TopHat
  9. Investopedia
  10. Class Capture

 

The Beginning

At the beginning of the semester it was impossible to make a calendar. My syllabi (which weren’t given out in class) were difficult to find. Because I didn’t have a syllabus from which I could look at the link to the teacher’s page, I had to remember the individual links to each professor’s class. This was a total waste of my time. I couldn’t just give up either because that syllabus is where the class textbook was. I felt trapped by the learning curve of new URLs that were being slung at me. I had moments were I questioned my ability to use computers. Was I so bad that I couldn’t handle a few new websites? Has technology already left me in the past?


The Semester

One of the classes I am taking is on technology integration into various parts of your life. The class is an introductory business class with a tech focus. This class is the biggest culprit of too many websites. For homework we need website A, for class we use website B, for lab we use website C, the tests are based on the information from website D, and everything is poorly managed by website E.

Another class is completely a pen on paper note taking class. In the middle of lecture, my professor will reference something on the website and then quickly go back to dictating notes. Reflecting on it, this teaching had a method to using online resources that I enjoyed. Everything I needed to learn for the tests was given to me in class and if I didn’t understand a concept, there were in depth help on the website.

One class has updates on Moodle that just directs me toward the online OWL course. This wasn’t terrible. I am ok with classes that give me a Moodle dashboard so I have one place to start my search for homework and text books. The OWL course described also had the textbook. This was really nice. One stop shopping for one class.

My last class (I know, I am a slacker that only took 4 classes this semester) never used the online resource which meant I never got practice using it. This was a problem when I needed to use it.


The End

I got over the learning curve of the 10 websites for 4 classes I was taking. But next semester I will just have to go through the same thing. I wish that professors at UMass all had a Moodle page that would at least have the syllabus and a link to their preferred website. But they don’t do that.

Automation with IFTTT

Image result for IFTTT

“If This, Then That”, or IFTTT, is a powerful and easy to use automation tool that can make your life easier. IFTTT is an easy way to automate tasks that could be repetitive or inconvenient. It operates on the fundamental idea of if statements from programming. Users can create “applets”, which are simply just scripts, that trigger when an event occurs. These applets can be as simple as “If I take a picture on my phone, upload it to Facebook”, or range to be much more complex. IFTTT is integrated with over 300 different channels,  including major services such as Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, and many others, which makes automating your digital life incredibly easy.

Getting Started with IFTTT and Your First Applet

Getting started with IFTTT is very easy. Simply head over to the IFTTT website and sign up. After signing up, you’ll be read to start automating by creating your first applet. In this article, we will build a simple example applet to send a text message of today’s weather report every morning.

In order to create an applet, click on “My Applets” at the top of the page, and select “New Applet”.

Now you need to select a service, by selecting the “this” keyword. In our example, we want to send a text message of the weather every morning. This means that the service will be under a “weather” service like Weather Underground. Hundreds of services are connected through IFTTT, so the possibilities are almost limitless. You can create applets that are based off something happening on Facebook, or even your Android/iOS device.

Next, you need to select a trigger. Again, our sample applet is just to send a text message of the weather report to your text in the morning. This trigger is simply “Today’s weather report”. Triggers often have additional fields that need to be filled out. In this particular one, the time of the report needs to be filled out.

Next, an action service must be selected. This is the “that” part of IFTTT. Our example applet is going to send a text message, so the action service is going to fall under the SMS category.

Like triggers, there are hundreds of action services that can be be used in your applets. In this particular action, you can customize the text message using variables called “ingredients”.

Ingredients are simply variables provided by the trigger service. In this example, since we chose Weather Underground as the trigger service, then we are able to customize our text message using weather related variables provided by Weather Underground such as temperature or condition.

After creating an action, you simply need to review your applet. In this case, we’ve just created an applet that will send a text message about the weather every day. If you’re satisfied with what it does, you can hit finish and IFTTT will trigger your applet whenever the trigger event occurs. Even from this simple applet, it is easy to see that the possibilities of automation are limitless!

Private Data in the Digital Age

Former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden is wanted by the United States for leaking details of U.S. government intelligence programs

Former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden is wanted by the United States for leaking details of U.S. government intelligence programs

In a scenario where someone has a file of information stored on a private server with the intent to keep it private, is it ever justified for someone else to expose a security flaw and post the information anonymously on the internet? There exists a fine line where “It depends” on the scenario. But this classification simply does not do the case justice as there are extraneous circumstances where this kind of theft and distribution is justifiable.

One such case is whistle-blowing. Edward Snowden is still a man of much controversy. Exiled for leaking sensitive government documents, some label him a hero, others a traitor. Snowden was former Special Forces and later joined the CIA as a technology specialist. He stole top-secret documents pertaining to the National Security Agency and FBI tapping directly into the central servers of leading U.S Internet companies to extract personal data. Snowden leaked these documents to the Washington Post, exposing the PRISM code, which collected private data from personal servers of American citizens. This program was born out of a failed warrantless domestic surveillance act and kept under lock and key to circumvent the public eye. Americans were unaware and alarmed by the breadth of unwarranted government surveillance programs to collect, store, and search their private data.

Although Snowden illegally distributed classified information, the government was, in effect, doing the same but with personal data of its constituents. I would argue that Snowden is a hero. He educated the American people about the NSA overstepping their bounds and infringing upon American rights. Governments exist to ensure the safety of the populace, but privacy concerns will always be in conflict with government surveillance and threat-prevention. The government should not operate in the shadows; is beholden to its people, and they are entitled to know what is going on.

The United States government charged Snowden with theft, “unauthorized communication of national defense information,” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person.” The documents that came to light following Snowden’s leaks only pertained to unlawful practices, and did not compromise national security. Therefore, it appears as though the government is trying to cover up their own mistakes. Perhaps this is most telling in one of Edward Snowden’s recent tweets :

“Break classification rules for the public’s benefit, and you could be exiled.
Do it for personal benefit, and you could be President.” – @Snowden

This commentary on Hillary Clinton shows that in the eyes of the government who is right and wrong changes on a case to case basis. In many ways, Snowden’s case mirrors Daniel Ellsberg’s leak of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. The Pentagon Papers contained evidence that the U.S. Government had mislead the public regarding the Vietnam war, strengthening anti-war sentiment among the American populace. In both cases, whistle-blowing was a positive force, educating the public about abuses happening behind their back. While in general practice, stealing private information and distributing it to the public is malpractice, in these cases, the crime of stealing was to expose a larger evil and provide a wake-up call for the general population.

Alternatively, in the vast majority of cases accessing private files via a security flaw is malicious, and the government should pursue charges. While above I advocated for a limited form of “hacktivism,” it was a special case to expose abuses by the government which fundamentally infringed on rights to privacy. In almost all cultures, religions and societies stealing is recognized as wrongdoing and should rightfully be treated as such. Stealing sensitive information and posting it online should be treated in a similar manner. Publishing incriminating files about someone else online can ruin their life chances. For example, during the infamous iCloud hack, thousands of nude or pornographic pictures of celebrities were released online. This was private information which the leaker took advantage of for personal gain. For many female celebrities it was degrading and humiliating. Therefore, the leaker responsible for the iCloud leaks was not justified in  taking and posting the files. While the definition of leaking sensitive information for the “common good” can be in itself a blurred line, but a situation like the iCloud leak evidently did not fit in this category. Hacking Apple’s servers to access and leak inappropriate photos can only be labeled as a malevolent attack on female celebrities, which could have potentially devastating repercussions for their career.

While the iCloud hack was a notorious use of leaking private data in a hateful way, there are more profound ways which posting private data can destroy someone’s life. Most notably, stealing financial information and identification (such as SSID) can have a huge, detrimental effect on someone’s life. My grandmother was a victim of identity theft, where someone she knew and trusted stole her personal information and used it for personal gain. This same scenario plays out online constantly and can drain someone’s life savings, reduce their access to credit and loans, and leave them with a tarnished reputation. Again, we draw a line between leaking something in the public’s interest and exposing a security flaw for the leaker’s benefit. By gaining access to personal files, hackers could wreck havoc and destroy lives. Obviously this type of data breach is unacceptable, and cannot be justified.

Overall, taking sensitive material and posting it anonymously online can generally be regarded as malpractice, however, their are exceptions such as whistle-blowing where the leaker is doing so for the common good. These cases are far and few between, and the “bad cases” have harming repercussions which can follow someone throughout their life. Ultimately, to recall Snowden’s case, everyone has a right to privacy. This is why someone leveraging a security flaw and posting files online is wrong from the get go, because it supersedes personal secrecy. In an increasingly digital world it is difficult to keep anything private, but everyone has a fundamental right to privacy which should not be disrespected or infringed upon.

Can you work off a 32GB storage laptop? The beginner’s guide to switching to the cloud.

Screenshot 2016-11-28 at 11.11.59 PM

Over the past 5 years the term ‘cloud’ has been moving around left and right. If you are asking what the cloud is then I’ll assure you it is not an actual cloud in the sky, but a term used to say that your data is kept for you in a far-off place. This was to make it easy for consumers to conceptualize where their data is, without too much of a misunderstanding.

Understanding the cloud conceptually:

What cloud really is is remote computing and storage, usually provided by corporate servers. A way to understand this best is by simple example: Let’s say you have a photo gallery on your computer and you want to place it in “the cloud”. I tell you I have a cloud service so that you can always have your files available without having them on your computer. You agree, and send the files to me via the internet. I tell you “you are now backed up in the cloud!” since your files are on my computer at this point. You then delete all the files on your device, but it’s okay since there is a copy on my computer. But now you want to view that old photo of yourself at that last weeks Thanksgiving get-together, but it is no longer on your computer. You simply ask me (the cloud) for that file back, and I send you the photo back for you to view.. and when you are done with it you can delete it again, or make changes to it and send me back the changes. Simple as that. I being the cloud, am essentially a remote flash drive or external hard drive to send you data when you need it.

Now obviously this is not exactly how the cloud works, but it is close. Let’s instead change it so my computer is now facebook or Google’s computers in a datacenter far-off from you, and that data is encrypted for security and provided with highspeed enterprise internet to send you your files as quickly as possible. Now we are using the cloud in the way it really works in the real world! Cloud services make it easy to view your files when “they are not there” in your computer. Such as Google Drive; when you install Google Drive you can view what files are available as if they are on your computer. This is Google’s servers telling you what file’s are on them. If you were to open a file, Google’s data center will send your computer that file to be stored as RAM rather than storage; when you click ‘Save’ you simply re-upload that file back to Google’s servers.

WEB APPS! More than just storage:

Most people think of only being able to store their files in the cloud, but there is much more available to them. As we already discussed cloud storage is a way to send data back and forth between computers. This means we can do more than just store your files, but we can also do tasks to those files and send you back the results in web-based applications!

Google Docs is a great example of this. When you open your Google Drive file in Docs, a website displays your file that is stored on Google’s servers. You can make changes to it on your browser and in real-time Google is making changes to that file on their end.

 

How to adapt to the future:

Cloud computing is starting to become the next big thing. We’re starting to see that we no longer need our computers to have high-end processors and large storage drives as long as we have a good internet connection. This means our computer’s can now be minimal in that they can be thinner, sleeker, and most importantly much cheaper.

Google has expressed this ideology of having a minimalist-type computer with their line of Chromebooks. Anyone trying to get into the web-app lifestyle would love the idea of the device. They’re cheap at ~$250, have fast storage for quick boot times, and have great network cards to maintain a solid internet connection. They only have 32gb of storage, but that’s okay since the entire operating system is based off the chrome browser. How can you manage just using the chrome browser? Again, web apps!

Here is a list of common programs and tasks you can replace with web-apps:

Storage: Box (recommended if you are a UMass affiliate), Google Drive, iCloud, or Mega

Gaming: Gaming Streaming Services! Such as OnLive, PS Now, or you can stream remotely if you have a high-end system.

Photoshop: Pixlr! A great website where you can have most of the features of Photoshop available to you for free all online!

Video-Editing: Use WeVideo, a website to upload videos and edit them all online.

Programming: There are several cloud based programming IDEs available, such as Cloud9 or CodeAnywhere!

Office: Google Docs has everything you need! From word, to powerpoint, to even excel. You and other collaborators can update your documents all in the Google Cloud, and even download them to your computer as a word document, pdf, or image file.

Music: You can use Spotify as a web-app, Google Play Music, or Amazon Prime Music as online subscription-based streaming services!

Movies/Shows: Most of us don’t even save movies anymore. Services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video let you stream thousands of movies and shows instantly.

Other: If you are in desperate need of say a Windows PC or Mac and you have a desktop at home, then you can stream your computer’s session to your device. Services like TeamViewer, RDP, and Chrome Remote Desktop make this incredibly easy.

Recommended:

As you can see most services can be provided by Google, and is my recommendation to use for being in the Cloud. A simple subscription to Google Play services can get you all the apps you would need to perform most to all computer-related tasks today. Chrome extensions and apps are also limitless as you can download thousands of them online.

Conclusion:

My advice is to try to future-proof yourself and use the cloud for all purposes. It’s a great way to keep your data safe and backed up. It’s also a way to spend less on potentially unnecessary computing power. With the world turning to web-based applications, a simple chromebook for $200 could last you years and could save you thousands compared to buying the latest Apple or PC hardware.

So You Want To Learn HTML? (Part 1: What IS HTML?)

Hi there! If you’ve clicked on this article, there is a non zero chance you want to learn HTML.

Today, I will be going over some of the basics of HTML. But first we must answer the question:

What IS HTML?

HTML Stands for HyperText Markup Language, and it provides the backbone for the code that makes up most web pages you visit on a daily basis. HTML code is usually written and modified using a variety of tags, styles and scripts.

  • Tags are the backbone of HTML, providing a basic structure for web pages.
  • Styles allow a web developer to modify the layout of a webpage but modifying attributes like the positioning, color, or size of elements on the webpage.
  • Scripts allow a web developer to create ways for users to interact with webpages in a variety of ways.

Today, we will be creating a basic HTML document. To begin, open up A simple text editor. The most common/easy to use for this exercise are Notepad (Windows) or TextEdit (Mac).

notepad-blank.bb647ae001a4fc7d168c240e01088787[1]

This is where we’ll begin. As previously stated, tags are the backbone of an HTML document, and are what we’ll be using to create a very basic text page. Every tag has an opening tag and closing tag. Text is then placed in between these tags.

Let’s run through a quick example: To create a full header tag, one would simply type the opening tag for a header: <h1>, followed by some text, and finally, the closing header tag: </h1>. Altogether, it would look something like this:

<h1> This is what a header looks like! </h1>?

Got that? To break it down one last time:

<h1> is our opening tag. It tells the document, “hey, I’m about to start a header tag. The stuff to follow is going to make a header for my page!”

</h1> tells the document, “I’m done writing the header now. Close it up!”

On a very basic level, this is all it takes to write a line of HTML code. Now, let’s dive into a few of the basic tag types.

Tag Types

Today we will be going over two very basic HTML tags to help give you a taste of writing HTML code.

Header

The header tag is a very important one, usually used to format the title of a webpage. We worked with it a bit up above, but there’s an extra part about headers that is important to know, for formatting purposes. The number that comes after the “h” in the header tag ranges from 1-6. These numbers rank the “importance” of each header in a given HTML document. Each rank, from <h1> all the way to <h6>, produce a progressively smaller header.

Consider the following block of code:

<h1> This is what an h1 header looks like! </h1>
<h2> This is what an h2 header looks like! </h2>
<h3> This is what an h3 header looks like! </h3>
<h4> This is what an h4 header looks like! </h4>
<h5> This is what an h5 header looks like! </h5>
<h6> This is what an h6 header looks like! </h6>

This code, when saved and viewed as an HTML document, looks like this:

headers

As we can see, each successive “rank” in our headers produces a smaller and smaller line, with the last couple of lines ending up quite small. This allows you to create “sub headers” to rank and organize items on your page by importance.

Paragraph

The paragraph tag is a simple and elegant way of “wrapping” text in your document, so that it doesn’t all stay together on one, long line. To represent a paragraph, use the following structure:

<p> This is my paragraph! By using this tag, it will wrap all of the text that I’m typing inside of it to make it much nicer to look at and read in my HTML document. Thanks <p> tag! </p>

Now that we’ve learned a couple of HTML tags, let’s use them to whip up your own HTML document!

  1. Open up Notepad, TextEdit, or similar text program.
  2. Type the following on the first line: <h1> This is my first HTML Document!</h1>
  3. On the next line, copy and paste the following: <p> The paragraph tag allows me to input text into my document, and format it to make it readable!</p>
  4. Finally type an <h2> header, with your name, and the date. Don’t forget to close the tag!
  5. Save the file as an HTML document. To do this, when naming the file, type ‘.html’ after the file name (for example: MyFirstHTML.html). Save it somewhere on your computer that is easily accessible.

Your final code should look something like this:

<h1> This is my first HTML Document!</h1>
<p> The paragraph tag allows me to input text into my document,  and format it to make it readable!</p>
<h2> First Name Last Name, October 4, 2016 </h2>

When you try to open up the HTML document, it should look like this:

headers

Congratulations! This article provides a very basic overview of HTML, and teaches you the basics of creating your first HTML document. Next time, we will discuss some more basic structural tags, as well as begin discussing styles, which will allow us to further modify the layout and color, as well as other features of our web page.

What is Fast.com and Why Does it Matter

Netflix just launched a new service, Fast.com, which allows people to check their download speed. It seems like a pretty mundane tool that only techie’s or people who love arguing with their ISP’s would care about but that belies the brilliant move that Netflix just made.

To understand why this is so important we should first look at the pre-existing services that allowed you to test your download speeds. Speedtest.net is the most ubiquitous tool for checking your download speeds online, while that gives it legitimacy, it also allows ISP’s to prioritize traffic to this site. It is technically possible that an ISP may provide prioritized traffic to Speedtest.net but slowing down or severely limiting to sites such as YouTube or Netflix in an attempt to limit how much a customer can download. This is a violation of net neutrality, a system that if in place would force ISP’s to treat all data as the same thus removing the possibility for Comcast (who is owned by NBCUniversal) to prioritize their own entertainment services over 3rd party services like Netflix. The scary thing is that, Comcast did something very similar, allowing their data to not count against their customers data caps while watching on Xbox 360’s, but counting data from services such as Netflix, HBO GO, and YouTube. Net neutrality is not a dead debate and it is important to be vigilant of how your data is processed.

Fast.com test of Eduroam

Fast.com test of Eduroam

Speedtest.net, the most popular internet speed test

Speedtest.net, the most popular internet speed test

The genius behind Netflix creating Fast.com is that they are hosting the service from the same servers that host Netflix.com. This removes the ability of ISP’s to prioritize fast.com data without prioritizing Netflix.com traffic, essentially this forces the hand of ISP’s to treat Netflix data fairly or be publicly shamed and most likely fined by the FCC. What this does not fix is data discrimination to other sites like HBO GO or YouTube, but the fix is simple, just provide a speed test function with your website to ensure no prioritization. While this is a move that strikes back at overstepping ISP’s I think it speaks more to the unfortunate environment that the internet has become, dominated by large corporations who have other interests besides providing the best internet access possible.

In conclusion, yes, this is something that techies get excited about, but this has larger implications for anyone who access the internet. Fair access to the internet is something that we need to ensure because this is a global service, we cannot be limited by corporate or national interests. For the first time in history we have a technology that binds us together as a whole, we cannot let ourselves divide it up.

The Web’s Move to SSL

These days, there is a lot of talk about cyber security, secure web browsing and tips to keep your information safe. One of the best ways to do this is to stick to websites that use an encrypted connection. Browsing completely secure can only truly be accomplished through websites using something call SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer. This allows an encrypted connection to be established between the web browser that you’re using, and the website you’re accessing. This kind of connection is usually indicated by a green lock and HTTPS in the URL bar of your web browser.

google1

A note about URLs starting in https: a green https is good; a red https, usually precluded by a warning that the certificate shouldn’t be trusted, is questionable at best. The way that ssl ensures a secure connection is by installing a certificate in your browser that is signed by a trusted entity, such as VeriSign. When this occurs, you’ll access the page and the lock and HTTPS will be green as shown above. However, anyone can create certificates, and if they aren’t signed by a trusted entity, your browser will warn you.

Untitled

This doesn’t mean that your connection isn’t encrypted, it still is and no one will be able to see your information in between your computer and the website’s server. What it does mean, is that the person or company who owns the website isn’t necessarily to be trusted.

In April, about 1/3 of all web traffic was encrypted, in large part due to Google, Facebook and Twitter. With Netflix planning to make the switch to HTTPS, some research indicates that this could jump to as much as 2/3 of all web traffic by the end of the year. On the subject of Facebook and Twitter, though, is yet another type of encryption that further secures your data: end-to-end encryption.

This mostly relates to private messaging between you and someone else. Examples include email, Facebook or Twitter messages or even text messages. End-to-end encryption allows all your data to be encrypted not between you and the website you’re using, but between you and the person you’re messaging. This ensures that Facebook or Twitter or Google, etc. can’t see your private messages. While this advanced privacy tool isn’t yet available for most services, there are browser extensions and add-ons that can provide this for you. As far as texting and even phone calls go there are a number of apps available for both iOS and Android that are designed to provide private communication.

So while truly secure internet access isn’t inherently provided with an internet connection, it is relatively easy to secure your web activity by making sure that your data is encrypted. This could be through secure sites, browser add-ons, or mobile applications, but whichever method(s) you use can go a long way in ensuring your data stays private.

Backup your student email with Mozilla Thunderbird

thunderbird4

For those of you graduating from UMass this spring, congratulations! It’s an exciting time to look ahead to the post-college life; however, before you head off on your future endeavors, it might be a good idea to backup your student email before you leave.

Why should I backup my email?

Your student email is deactivated one year after you leave the university. All other services (wireless access, Moodle, etc) are deactivated six months after leaving the university. Although for most people this is a year after graduating in May, the actual timeline is one year after you are last enrolled in anything at UMass – for example, if you graduate but take one final summer class to finish your degree, your email will be deactivated one year after that summer course ends.

There is no official need to backup your email, however many students find it convenient to still have those messages saved after graduating.

How do I backup my email?

To back up your email, you will need a third party mail client such as Mozilla Thunderbird, Apple Mail, or Microsoft Outlook. For the sake of this tutorial I will use Mozilla Thunderbird because it is both free and available for Mac OS and Windows, however if you prefer to use Apple Mail (which is pre-installed on any Mac) or Microsoft Outlook (available with many installations of Microsoft Office), those are perfectly fine as well. You will also need a non-UMass, personal email account such as a Gmail or Yahoo account.

1. Install Thunderbird

Thunderbird can be downloaded and installed from Mozilla’s website here:

https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/thunderbird/

2. Add your student email account to Thunderbird

This process will vary depending on what type of email you have with UMass. Please click one of the following articles for your operating system and email account type.

Google Apps Users (Undergraduates):

UMail Users (Graduate Students):

Exchange Users:

If you have an Exchange account, you may add the account to Apple Mail or Microsoft Outlook. Please click here for a list of articles on adding Exchange accounts to mail clients. If you are using Windows and do not have Outlook, you can try adding your account to Thunderbird as an IMAP account (use the settings listed in this article).

3. Allow Thunderbird to synchronize your mail

Thunderbird may take a few minutes to download all of your messages. After adding the account, you should see it listed on the left-hand column. Click Inbox to see your messages as they download.

4. Add a personal email account to Thunderbird

This can be any non-UMass email account which you would like to move your old school emails over to. A personal gmail or yahoo account should work, however you can use any email account which is able to be configured with Thunderbird.

5. Create a folder in your personal email account

You should now have two email accounts added to Thunderbird, one being your school email and the other being a personal email. They will both be listed on the left-hand column. Underneath your personal email account, create a new folder, named “umass backups” or whatever you’d like to call it. This folder is where we will migrate all of your UMass emails.

6. Begin moving folders into “umass backups”

Now that you have both accounts in the same place, you can click the Inbox (and any other folders) underneath your student account in the left-hand column, and drag that down into the “umass backups” folder under your personal account. Thunderbird will now copy everything over to the personal account. Please note that this process may take some time.

7. Check to make sure your files moved over.

After everything has been moved, Thunderbird will synchronize your personal email account and everything should now be copied into that account. It might be a good idea to log into the web client for your personal email to check and make sure the “umass backups” folder is there and up to date.

Questions?

If you have questions about this process, please contact IT User Services at 413-545-9400 or it@umass.edu. Additionally, if you prefer to use Apple Mail or Outlook for this process, instructions on adding university email accounts to these programs can be found on our website under support center articles.

http://www.it.umass.edu/google-apps

http://www.it.umass.edu/exchange

http://www.it.umass.edu/email/umail

 

What is Secure Online Storage at UMass Amherst?

Many students are not aware that they have access to UDrive, an online file storage service hosted by the university. Undergraduate students from 2013 onward have a (Google) Apps account which provides email, drive storage, and online office tools. In many ways, your Apps account doubles as an account to a superior online storage solution. This spring, UMass Amherst Information Technology has added Box to the online repertoire of students–a new service that is superior to Apps in a few ways.

Continue reading

HackUMass 2015

The word “hack” seems to have a very negative connotation these days, seemingly always associated with big company data breaches and malicious foreign governments. This past weekend, however, the campus saw the positive implications of the word, as over 500 students from across the country traveled to campus to attend HackUMass, the 3rd annual hackathon at Umass.

HackUMass 3

Congratulations to all of the participants at HackUMass III !

So what is a hackathon?  Well, as a computer science student, I like to solve problems. These days it seems like there very few things that can’t be improved or made more efficient by some sort of technical solution. At any hackathon, like this past weekend at HackUMass, students break up into teams to create a technical solution to a problem. This weekend, each team had between midnight Friday and noon Sunday to build, design, and troubleshoot their solution. Most teams worked through the 36 hours without much, if any, sleep.

HackUMass_Andrew

Help Center Consultant Andrew B. and his team for their project “Campus for Sale”.

My team hit Facebook to search for inspiration of what to build. We ended up on the UMass ‘Free and For Sale’ group and began looking through the posts there. Here, students can post anything and everything they are looking to sell to other students on campus. It seemed like a sort of Craiglist on Facebook. Here’s the issue though: Facebook is a social media platform. It’s simply not built for this sort of thing. Items that are posted disappear as more posts are made after it. You can’t easily search for items you are looking for, and there is no sort of filtering or category search. We knew we could build something better.

homepage

The categories featured on the homepage.

Armed with just our laptops and an endless supply of Redbull, we set to work in our cozy room in the Integrated Learning Center (ILC). Our project, CampusForSale, was going to be a website that let students buy and sell items on campus. We thought it was important for the website to only allow students to post items, as we wanted to make sure it was as easy and safe to pickup items as possible. Most of my team had never done any web development before the event, so we took a divide and conquer approach. Two of us worked mainly on the back-end database and search functionalities, while the other two worked on the front-end website. In order to make it more useful than it’s Facebook counterpart we made sure that you could search for items, and browse listings by category.

listings

This page shows all the listings in a certain category.

Other teams worked on hardware projects, some involving various sensors, LEDs, and embedded computers. You can view other projects that teams worked on at http://hackumass-iii.devpost.com/submissions.

Over the course of the weekend, each of us got only about 4 or 5 hours of sleep total, but our prototype of the site was live at http://www.campus.forsale by noon on Sunday. After an initial round of judging, CampusForSale was selected as a finalist and we got the opportunity to present our project at the closing ceremonies!

Now we’re all off to bed until HackUmass 2016.

Career Planning Online

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Now that you have graduated you may be thinking about the future. On the other hand, you may not be thinking about the future. Either way, enjoy your week of cap throwing, social gatherings, and parents. Maybe you got a cool graduation gift from that uncle or you’re just taking some time off or you are traveling the world. No matter what, reality may hit you sooner rather than later if you don’t have a job lined up.

If you are really late in the game, the government offers an interesting career path tool. That can help you figure out what you want to do with your life. Check out My Next Move to see where you should be going with your life.

Another under-appreciated resource is Linkedin. Recruiters are constantly combing through profiles and reaching out to potential employees whose skills match the job descriptions of the positions they are trying to fill. There has been an increasing expectation for job seekers to have a Linkedin account, so having an up-to-date profile could be the difference between an interview and a paper shredder.

You can also check out services for UMass Alumni from UMass Career Services. Career Connect, a tool to search for jobs and internships and update your resume, is available for one year after graduation. Just keep in mind that Career Services will be transitioning to a new service this summer, so be sure to backup your resume and job postings by May 20th. As an alternative, a similar non-UMass affiliated job search tool is Indeed.

Whether you are a senior leaving high school or a recent graduate from UMass, knowing where to go next may be daunting.

Maybe you already have a job lined up and you know exactly what you want to do with your life and what you will do with your first pay stub. No matter what, you can still check out this online career tool. When I found this website today I didn’t intend to use it to discover my calling. Instead, I tried switching the answers in my head to see what my opposite result would be. This was a fun game. My career “opposite” was midwife. Not that there is anything wrong with being a midwife, it just isn’t for me.

Congratulations and good luck!

Bittorrent: An explanation of the Protocol

What is BitTorrent as a technology?

BitTorrent Logo

BitTorrent is a technology that is mainly used in the sharing of large files, though it is also favorable in achieving maximum redundancy of a file on the internet. Basically the technology is a Peer-to-Peer system, in which clients (your personal computer) connect to a central tracking server, the “tracker”. This “tracker” keeps track of all the “peers” connected to a single file that is being shared on the network. When peers connect to the server they begin to capture bytes of the file that is being downloaded and in the same likeness begins re-uploading those bytes to allow other “peers” to get at the file being downloaded. The action of re-uploading is also called “seeding”, which allows other “peers” connected to this file to get a maximized connection for download. All in all, it can be summarized as being a file sharing service.

What’s the controversy?

The controversy around the use of BitTorrent technology lies in the notorious connotation that the technology has with enabling copyright infringement. Infamous torrent trackers make headline news as they are among some of the most trafficked websites in the world. According to the Alexa Internet Site Ranking service, the 217th most trafficked website in the world is a known torrent tracker. People are very aware of these websites, but if they are unfamiliar with the technology and what it means to be a patron to these sites, they can suffer consequences that can impact their lives severely.

What’s “seeding”?

Seeding is the act of uploading to a torrent data stream. As a key part of the technology, seeding is what allows for data redundancy when other seeders go offline, as well as a boost to overall throughput/data speeds when other peers want to download a file. As a seeder you connect to the torrent network, and other peers are able to see where to retrieve data for the file they want to download. The way the download works is based on a network identifier known as an IP Address, so every “peer” connected to the same torrent are either uploading or downloading and are known to every other “peer”.

What’s being a “peer”?

A peer is anyone connected to a torrent file, and downloading or uploading data to the collective network.

What’s being a “leech”?

A peer who rather than committing to upload and download data, is stopping their clients uploading to resist contribution to the collective network.

BitTorrent Protocol Diagram

BitTorrent for legal and legitimate use.

BitTorrent can be legally used for file transmission, when the material isn’t subject to Copyright, some materials such as open-source software or media with Creative-Commons licenses can be subject to a lesser extent of Copyright, and are often okay to distribute freely. One such site that takes advantage of the BitTorrent protocol is http://linuxtracker.org/ where individuals can download various distributions of the free and open-source Linux Operating System using BitTorrent.

What are the consequences of infringing copyright?

DMCA Logo

Because of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act enacted in 1998, any person caught violating a copyright owners exclusive rights, can be penalized in ways where the violator would have to pay damages, being forced via injunction to stop infringing activities, and potential jail-time. As a UMass student you are also subject to the policies of Copyright and Fair Use instituted by the University, which outlines penalties for violating Copyright.

UMass Copyright Policies: http://www.it.umass.edu/copyright/copyright-umass-amherst-higher-education-opportunity-act-information

Source: https://www.lib.purdue.edu/uco/CopyrightBasics/penalties.html

Net Neutrality: The Impact on Students

What is “Net Neutrality”?

Net Neutrality Symbol

The concept that the Internet should be a right for all people, and should be unrestricted by the companies that provide the networks that connect people to the internet. By restricting network access, the companies providing access can throttle or limit connection speeds based on the online content you are trying to get hold of, which is the antithesis of the concept of the free and open internet.

Who are the key players?

President Obama: The president recently announced his support of “net neutrality” in the form of taking a stance on the way internet is delivered to the American people. He is looking to back legislation which would declare internet as a Utility, much like the electricity, cable and telephone companies are regulated in the way they provide services to American households, Internet service will also receive the same treatment as those other services.

Obama Letter

ISP’s (Internet Service Providers): ISP’s are the companies/entities paid by consumers to provide them with Internet Access. Some big names in the industry would be Comcast/Universal, Time Warner Cable, Charter, and Cox, just to name a few. Here at the university, the campus is its own ISP, fulfilling the role of getting you connected to the Internet.

The FCC/Chairman Wheeler: As of February 26th 2015, the FCC completed a ruling that favored net neutrality, which enables the free internet, by amending the Communications Act of 1934. In his justification, he is quoted as saying, “This is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech. They both stand for the same concept.”

Quote from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/26/net-neutrality-fcc-vote_n_6761702.html

What are the implications on me?

Since a free and open internet has been what users have been accustomed to since the inception of the internet, the lack of such freedom would definitely impact the way people use the internet as a resource. If people were forced to pay for access to sites that were outside of a certain subscription model, people would eventually catch on to the fact that they were getting taken advantage of by these corporations that have the power to charge twice for a certain service. For example, the video subscription service Netflix (a leader in passing net neutrality legislation) , which costs $8.99 at the writing of this article, may have to vary subscription costs based on the way the ISP charges for access to their content. This ultimately demonstrates that the only real entities that would gain from a throttled internet would be the people providing access (ISP’s) and not the content creators (users of the Internet).

How can these decisions affect the future of the Internet?

Although the FCC has released the specifications of the new legislation which classifies the Internet as a utility, which subjects it to laws regarding blocking of some content, other advances have yet to be made, where individuals will have unfiltered access to some media streaming services. There are some companies looking to sidestep the FCC’s legislation, such as Sony or HBO potentially filing for classification as non-BIAS (non-broadband internet access service), which would prioritize these sites traffic by grouping them outside common internet access.

By allowing these internet companies to regulate how the internet is accessed, even if by just limiting the speed, they are in a way censoring content for the general public and would have the capabilities to extort certain companies for prioritized access speed. With the recent amendment in February, they have staved off the companies that are fighting so hard to undermine the “Open Internet”, but as with all legislation, how long will it take until these companies find a loophole on which to further their agenda?

http://deadline.com/2015/03/hbo-showtime-sony-fcc-net-neutrality-rules-1201395721/

Posted in Web

Getting Started With Your Webpage

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Did you know that the University provides all students, faculty, and staff with their own webpage? This article explains the basics of how to access your personal webpage. If you have not yet read our previous article about Data Storage via FTP, I recommend doing so before you read this one over, as the same basic principles apply.

Please note that this will not cover HTML or use of Dreamweaver, just the steps to get access to your personal webpage.

First, you will need two resources to be able to access and update your website:

1) A File-Transfer-Protocol (FTP) application. In plain English this is a bridge that connects you with your webpage, allowing you to directly access it and change any files inside of the webpage as needed. Instructions on how to log in will be briefly explained here, but more detailed instructions can be found here under the section captioned ‘Using FTP with WinSCP and Filezilla’.

ITUS supports two types of FTP applications: WinSCP and Filezilla. You can obtain WinSCP here (Windows machines only!) and Filezilla here (select “Filezilla client”). If you are using a Mac, you can also connect using the built-in terminal, no downloads needed, but it is not very user-friendly and not recommended for users unfamiliar with a command line prompt. I personally prefer WinSCP and will continue instructions as if we were using WinSCP.

2) Web Authoring Software. This is technically optional, but I do not recommend anyone without experience in webpage design to create a website without one of these. ITUS supports a program called Dreamweaver. It costs money, but it is available on our Computer Classrooms if you don’t want to purchase the product.

Alright! You have your FTP application and your Web Authoring Software. For the next step, you’ll want to go to this URL: webadmin.oit.umass.edu . Once you log in, you will see your Web Space Management Tool:

Web Space Management Tool

This will show you how much space you have left in your webpage. If you receive an error when you try to upload more files in the future, please go to webadmin.oit.umass.edu and make sure your webpage is not full. You may now log out and no longer need to log into this page unless you want to check the space.

Now we are going to connect to your website using WinSCP. Please copy the screenshot below, replacing “netID” and “your password” with your IT Account netID and password.

WinSCPThen select “Login”.

Once you have successfully logged in, a new window will appear with two panels. On the left-hand side are files on your own personal computer. On the right-hand side you will see all the files in your website. If you wish to bring any files from your computer to the website, simply drag the desired file from the left panel to the right panel. If you would like to pull any files from the website, drag from right to left.

If you explore through the files in the right-hand panel, you will come across a file called index.html. This is the main page that will appear when someone goes to your website by typing in people.umass.edu/your-netID. If you double click it, it will open a text document with the appropriate HTML inside it and will look nothing like the real website. Or if you have never made any edits to your website, then there won’t be much content at all. This is normal.

In theory, one could build and make edits to their website by making direct edits to this index.html file. However, this is impractical and tedious. We can use a web authoring software (step 2 above) to make editing the website much easier and intuitive. Instructions on how to connect Dreamweaver to your website can be found here.

At this point you are set up and ready to start making edits to your UMass website. Congratulations!

 

Sources (by order of appearance):

http://blogs.umass.edu/Techbytes/2014/01/06/ftp/

http://winscp.net/eng/index.php

https://filezilla-project.org/

https://www.it.umass.edu/support/web-hosting/connect-oit-web-hosting-servers-ssh-terminal-macintosh

http://www.it.umass.edu/support/web-hosting/web-site-building-guide

http://www.it.umass.edu/support/web-hosting/site-definition-sftp-adobe-dreamweaver

Stream services for TV and Movies

From cable-cutters to college students, nearly everybody is interested in video streaming services. You may be tempted to use torrenting software to get your TV shows and movies, but this software is notorious for landing people with copyright violation notices and occasionally some hefty fines. There are many legal alternatives to torrenting software, and I will discuss them here. Continue reading

Zotero Citation Software

Have you had trouble finding a good site to help you create a bibliography? Tired of hunting down pieces of information about your source? Or maybe you’re not sure if you have enough information in your citations. Now there is an answer to all of your questions and that answer is Zotero. Zotero creates citations for you at the click of a button! It allows you to store your citations in folders or libraries for organization and upon registering with an email and password(for free) you can access your citations across multiple devices! Continue reading

Website Design

Have you ever dreamed of designing your own website? By taking advantage of the free and discounted software offered by IT User Services your dream may be closer than you think. One of the best tools available for website design is Adobe Dreamweaver. Dreamweaver gives users the ability to design and edit webpages using HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP, etc. The software is available through the Adobe Campus Agreement for select faculty, staff, and students. You can see if you are eligible for the program by logging in at : http://www.oit.umass.edu/support/software/adobe-campus-agreement-no-cost-software-faculty-staff Continue reading

Listen to YouTube on iOS

YouTube has tons of uses – primarily video watching, but often podcasts and music can be found on the great video behemoth. While iOS 7 has plenty of music players, sometimes you want to listen to something you’ve found on YouTube without killing your battery by leaving the screen on. But when you want to listen (and not watch) a video on your iPhone, what do you do?
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eBooks

The UMass Amherst library is the tallest academic library in the world.  With twenty-six floors, the library has a wide variety of academic and recreational books, as well as online resources available to students, faculty, and staff.  One of these online resources is eBooks.  A wide variety of classic texts and articles are now available as eBooks that community members can access easily on laptops, tablets, and mobile devices. Continue reading

TwitchPlay[Games]! Social Experiment With a Large Following — The Community

A continuation from the previous TwitchPlaysGames blog which can be found at http://blogs.umass.edu/Techbytes/?p=3746

 

Once the project was done the stream went live under the name TwitchPlaysPokemon, which was given the acronym TPP. Starting with a few players, the adventure began. A new game was created and the nostalgic adventure of Pokémon was underway. Starting with roughly 1,000 people, it was mind-boggling how this once single player game was being played by so many people, yet this was just the start. TPP began rising in popularity extremely quickly. Within hours, the viewer count rose to 5,000, then to 10,000. Within two days, the stream was averaging about 50,000 viewers.
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TwitchPlay[Games]! Social Experiment With a Large Following — The Creation

TwitchTV

Games have been a way to bring people together all across the world from those in nearby countries or across the globe. It is an undeniable fact that games are popular world-wide, but one game that was released about 20 years ago can still be mentioned today and many still remember it clearly – and that game is Pokémon. The game was originally single player, so only one person could play it at a time on one device and there was very limited play-ability in multiplayer without being physically next to someone with a cord connecting the two devices. Recently, this changed through the medium Twitch TV (http://twitch.tv).
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How To: Mount UDrive in Ubuntu


You may have noticed that the Help Center provides instructions for making your UDrive easily accessible on your desktop PC and Mac on our website, but, what if you’re running a Linux distrubution? Not to worry! By taking the following steps, you’ll soon be able to back up and shuffle around your important files with ease. Below are instructions for setting up your UDrive with Ubuntu 12.04 LTS. While following the steps, click on images to enlarge for details. It takes a few Terminal commands, but you’re already using Linux, right? You’re not afraid of those!

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MOOC? What’s a MOOC?

 

MOOC

Have you ever taken a step back from your daily grind of endless homework, classes, work, and labs; and just wanted a break? Do you sometimes just feel like there’s just too many coding classes, too many chemistry classes, just too many classes you just aren’t interested in? Don’t fret, this isn’t a sign to change your major or even your college. Not yet anyway. This happens all the time – any college class can become overwhelming and lose it’s luster. Alternatively, you could just be really bored and have not as much homework as everyone else, and think, “Gee, I’d love to take a class on Urban Planning, but really can’t fit it into my schedule”.

Well, maybe that last one doesn’t happen as much, but you get the idea. There’s this neat little secret which fixes both: MOOC, or Massive Open Online Course.

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Posted in Web

How Does the “Cloud” Really Work?

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Cloud Computing is becoming increasingly popular among both businesses and consumers; but what is the “Cloud” and how does it work?

A Cloud Computing System can be divided into two parts: the Front End and the Back End.  The Front End consists of either a user’s computer or a network of computers connected to the Internet.  The Back End is comprised of many different servers, computers, and storage databases that are all interconnected; these components, functioning together as a whole, form a “Cloud”.  A central server exists to administer the entire system, constantly monitoring it to prevent failures.  All these different components interact and communicate with each other through the Internet, forming a web of inter-connected, redundant devices.

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